GARDENERS OF EMPIRE.
Tillers of the soil they were — just gardeners then,
In faith the day’s work doing as the day’s work came,
Peaceful art in peace pursuing — not seeking fame —
When through the Empire rang the Empire’s call for men!
Gardeners they were, finding in fragile flowers delight,
Lore in frail leaves, and charm even in wayside weeds.
Who, in their wildest dreams, ne’er rose to do brave deeds,
Defending righteous cause against relentless Might!
The wide world gave her flowers for them — the mountains high,
The valleys low, and classic hills all fringed with snow
Where fires by sunset kindled light the alpen-glow.
O ! Fate implacable ! — to see those hills and die !
The war god rose refreshed — Gardeners and Soldiers then!
Who, that slumbering Peace might wake, dared, with manhood’s zeal,
To make Life’s sacrifice to Love’s supreme appeal.
For King and Country fought and died — Gardeners and Men !
written by H. H. T
probably Harry H. Thompson, editor of the journal, The Gardener, who left Kew in 1899.
reprinted from the Kew Guild Journal, 1915. http://www.kewguild.org.uk/media/pdfs/v3s23p265-39.pdf
A timely posting for it is National Gardens Week 14 – 20 April 2014 in the year of the First World War centenary http://www.1914.org
This was one of the poems that featured in my recent talk on zoos and botanic gardens in wartime as part of the garden and landscape history at the IHR University of London on 27 March 2014. Some of HHT’s phrases – “finding in fragile flowers delight” – have a faint echo of Gloucester poet Ivor Gurney (1890- 1937) that I have admired and studied for many years, now slowly finding his proper recognition as an artist and musician. This poem as tribute or epitaph is growing on me as I uncover how it reflects the lives and attitudes of a generation of lost gardeners of Kew (and the brief opportunities the war provided for women), a period beautifully illustrated by Lynn Parker and Kiri Ross-Jones’ new photographic history of Kew Gardens. You can read brief biographies of each of the 37 Kew casualties of WW1 on previous blog posts.
There are more IHR garden history talks in London coming up in May and Autumn, see http://www.history.ac.uk/events/seminars/121.
I also look forward to returning to Kew Gardens to do another wartime zoo and botanic garden talk in Autumn 2014 as part of their soon-to-be announced autumn programme of talks on http://www.kew.org/kmis.
37 Kew staff lost from 150 staff and old Kewites on active service in WW1 seems a disproprortionately large number but again Kew staff are under threat of 125 staff posts at risk of redundancy, leading naturalists and garden writers from David Attenborough and James Wong to champion the role of Kew Gardens in the modern world. I hope that a solution can be found as it cast a shadow over my day meeting staff there. After visiting the Kew Gardens war memorial and the storm damaged and now vanished Verdun Oak , I met up with James Wearn, hard at work on Kew’s wartime centenary commemorations and look forward to posting more about this throughout the year. Floreat Kew!